My Mental Health Journey To A New Found Hope
My name is Jonathan Cumpston, and I’m a 33-year old Player Development baseball coach and Scout from Norfolk, Virginia. My story is no different, or greater than any one else who battles and lives with mental health conditions. I too struggle with my own battles being self-conscious and embarrassed after being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety since 2012. In 2016, I was blessed and given an opportunity to personally work with China McCarney and Jim Vatcher of Jaeger Sports in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until recently that China and I spoke and caught up with each other when I decided to share a little bit about my conditions. I want to personally thank China for his boldness and heart to share his story and struggles with depression and anxiety, and for his vision and passion to make a difference in the lives of athletes who live with mental health conditions. He encouraged me, and directed me to this website, and after reading about AAAAD, that light of hope shined in my life for the first time to take my leap of faith to come out and share my story.
I don’t know if any of you have had this thought or feeling, but one of the biggest questions that runs through my head quite often leaves me wandering, “Am I the only athlete and coach out there who battles and struggles with mental health conditions?” Over the past few years, I’ve wished, hoped, and prayed to meet and find other athletes who live with mental health conditions like me. After my time serving our country in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. I had many mixed emotions, especially a long period of denial that I was diagnosed with these disorders. For the next few years I fought tooth and nail going to therapy and treatment, and even worse, convincing myself that I didn’t need to take the medication the doctors prescribed me to help control my conditions. After denial and having convinced myself I was fine, I fell into the dangerous trap of self-medicating myself off and on by isolating myself from everything and everyone, along with masking and medicating my conditions with alcohol and pills. It wasn’t until I had an opportunity to coach a Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer collegiate team after a few years of coaching high school baseball, that opened my eyes to what I was going through, and how much I needed to seek out more help. That summer college team will forever be cemented in my heart for how they helped push me and didn’t judge me for my conditions during games coaching. When I shared with a couple of my baseball players about some of the battles I was going through, those young men approached me about their own struggles with mental health that opened my eyes to see I’m not the only one who struggles and lives with mental health conditions.
At this point in my life, I realized it was now or never. One of the things that surrounded my life, whether as a former collegiate athlete, high school and college coach, or in my everyday life, was a theme that followed me of failing. One of the key principle lessons I preached and taught my pitchers was the importance of never being afraid to fail or mess up. I taught my players how to “fail forward towards successful results.” Behind the scenes that my teams didn’t know in my own life that I struggled with was applying my own coaching to my life. I was teaching one thing, but personally living the total opposite. I dug deep and finally challenged myself that it was time for a change. And it was a choice that only I could make. No longer was I going to turn to the negative coping skills and riding the fence with my battle with my own mental health struggles that surrounded my life. Unknown to me, I didn’t understand how sick I had really become by avoiding the treatment and medications that were necessary to recovering. Instead, the years of masking what was really going on inside mentally by ignoring it caused me to reach a major fork in the road in my life. I was scared and ashamed of being diagnosed with mental health conditions, and the stereotypes and stigmas that surround them, especially what other people thought. It was time to make a choice, and a choice to stop running from the help I needed. I knew deep down, that I was meant for so much more, and heck, I had already tried every other way of treating my own self. What would hurt by committing myself to receive the proper help and treatment at this point? My first big step came when I made the time to begin studying and reading all about depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder by educating myself each day. It took a lot to finally let go of my own pride and seek out the help, but it was time.
To make a long story short, the event that changed my whole outlook on everything came when my mom came to me one day with tears in her eyes as she wrapped her arms around me a few years back. You see, what I didn’t know was behind the scenes, my mom was scared she was losing her son to this mental health battle and didn’t understand why and how suddenly, the changes in my mood swings, behavior, tendencies, depression symptoms, and internal battle I faced every day were all over the place. Well, unknown to me, for a two-month span, she had been attending classes through an organization called NAMI. She got to hear from other families and people who live with, and/or are close to other family members that battle and struggle with mental health conditions. When she came up to me after completing these classes, she held me and said that she had no idea what I had been going through, and it all made perfect sense to her after learning and educating herself about my mental health. It was one of the greatest gifts and acts of love my mom could have ever done for me, and because of that act of love from her, she empowered me and gave me the final push to get the help that I’d been dying inside for. Something as simple as taking the time to care and hear my cries internally for help, empowered my life to realize that I’m not a freak, I’m not crazy, I’m not a lost cause, and I am loved and accepted for who I am, no matter what my diagnoses are.
It was in that moment that I called my doctor and said I would like to come and talk to him truthfully about what had been going on and ask for the much-needed help and therapy I desperately needed. It was a very emotional meeting with him, but in that meeting, we came up with a treatment plan and medication regiment that I committed to. It’s now been 3 years since that meeting and today I am still committed to receiving a treatment called EMDR, counseling, and medication treatment. It hasn’t been easy, and just like anyone else out there, I have my good days and bad days still. But I finally decided to fail forward towards a new hope. I’ve fully accepted what I have, and who I am and what I live with. It has become, in a way, a blessing in disguise in my life now to be able to encourage others through my story in the hope that maybe it could reach one person by helping to give them that push and hope knowing that they aren’t alone in this journey.
My faith and relationship with Jesus has been the major part of learning to grow day by day how to cope and manage what I have. Baseball has been the other big impact in my life that has, in its own unique way, been a type of therapeutic medicine that motivates me, and teaches me how to fully utilize the blessings and gifts that come with being bipolar and the creative mind that comes with it. Coaching baseball has grounded my life mentally and taught many valuable lessons how to embrace my conditions as a gift I never would have found out about if I didn’t make the choice to get help. I like to joke around with my baseball guys when I share my story about my mental health conditions, especially being bipolar, because you either get 0% or 100% out of me (lol). All kidding aside, having that athletic blood and passion running deep inside my bones, I no longer live with major mood swings from 0% to 100%. It has leveled me out to become more of a 30% to 70% kind of mentality. Golf, and learning how to enjoy and play the great game of golf, has been the other therapeutic medicine for my mental health. Just like pitching, it teaches patience by adjusting and correcting your mistakes, and bad swings, and mentally pushing you to dig deep to find out what your truly made of. Like pitching, when you find that zone and your release point on the mound during a game, golf only takes that one perfect swing to empower you to keep moving forward. In life, you either cave in and toss in the towel, or you adopt the principal of how to fail forward towards a new-found hope. Whether it’s on the diamond, or a mini battle each of us face in our own mental health conditions daily, understanding that you have hope and can live a healthy lifestyle with your conditions is a daily victory you should celebrate! I’ve become free from my battles, and now focus on my daily victories and growth. I might have a couple chemical imbalances in my head, and might be a little off at times, but God made me in his image and for a special purpose. Today, I am proud to proclaim that I’m not a stigma and have embraced what I live with and love the man I’ve become through my mental health journey today. Lastly, I want to leave you all with a word or two of encouragement that has motivated my life through my mental health journey. Adopt this motto and apply it to your own life: “Forget the ‘can’t,’ and live for ‘purpose’”. The challenge I’ll leave you with is this: “Dare yourself to step outside your comfort zone, while keeping one foot in your gift zone.” Thanks for allowing me to share my story and continue to stay strong, because you’re not alone in your journey!
Published March 15th, 2018